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Calling All Marketers: 6 Tips For Adjusting Brand Communication In A Crisis

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Matt Wujciak


According to a Holmes (a voice of the global PR industry) report, the cost of poor communication has hit an overwhelming $37 billion, making it one of the most problematic functions in modern business. That number is expected to rise exponentially as brands navigate unprecedented behavioral shifts in consumer behavior and trial-and-error marketing strategies.

One of the very first steps in the consumer journey map (often before a customer even recognizes a need) starts with the digital interaction and perception they have of your brand. 

Your organization’s click-through rates and Google Analytics may be promising, but is your target market retaining your marketing message? 

During crises, it’s important to ask yourself, how is my brand communicating with our customers?

As Annette Franz, Forbes Coaches Council and CEO of CX Journey recently told me:

“Communication is one of the most important things to get right – always, crisis or not. I often say that communications are the most-overlooked parts of the customer experience and employee experience. That needs to change. Communications must be open, candid, transparent, timely, relevant, personalized, and consistent.”

Pivot imagery and language

When it comes to marketing a product or service, “crisis or not,” imagery is an imperative part of how your brand is communicating with customers. 

A study by John Medina, molecular biologist and NY Times bestselling author, showed that our information retention increases from 10 – 65% when adding visuals to written content. Not to mention, 83% of human learning is visual. 

Now, since the reality is that we are currently living in a crisis, apply this concept to the current state of pandemonium that we’re living in. 

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For that reason, our analysts recommend avoiding visuals of crowds or people touching, working in offices, or at social gatherings out of the house.

Similarly, consider reframing marketing language that describes close interaction. Reconsider figurative language like “get in touch,” “work hand in hand,” or “get closer to your customers.” 

Messages encouraging immediate interaction may be deeply scrutinized and influence how consumers perceive your brand and retain your marketing message, especially during times of sensitivity and uncertainty. 

Mind your tone

We highly recommend not using any “hot COVID-19 sales” or other tactless messaging that have become popular, yet ineffective, especially as marketers test uncharted waters. Even titles, such as “how to capitalize on coronavirus,” followed by a sales pitch, can seem insensitive and display the wrong idea to customers. 

It’s OK to provide your target audience with informative media, products and services during the pandemic, to educate and serve your customers in need. In fact, you should. However, be mindful of how you are branding them to avoid any insincere sales pitches that can be misconstrued.

Whether it’s reporting educational information for your audience in an email newsletter or a sales-generating marketing campaign, don’t be the alarmist brand who plays telephone. It’s important to keep customers informed, but be conscious of whether or not you’re adding to the pandemonium.

Additionally, be mindful of overly dramatic language, as well as any additional information you’re sharing (i.e. accurately sourced news articles, tips or stats) to ensure brand credibility.

Adjust scheduled content

Decide what should be paused immediatelyPush timelines back on digital marketing campaigns that will likely be eclipsed, or pause entirely if you’re not sure if the content is appropriate (given current behavioral economic shifts in your specified markets). 

Consider what content to prioritize or pivot. You may want to move some things up in the interim, or look for ways to successfully pivot messaging to adhere to your target market on a personalized basis.

According to Salesforce, 92% of marketers say personalization “majorly or moderately” improves brand building. And 84% of marketing leaders say personalization majorly or moderately improves customer acquisition. (For that reason, Annette recommends consumer journey mapping and detailed customer personas to help drive your customer understanding and personalization tactics). 

Today’s consumers like to build relationships with brands. So tailor your content towards them to let your customers know that you know them. 

Manager Checklist: Considerations for a Remote Contact Center

Keep an eye on the quarantine advisements in your designated geographic business areas, as every region is on a different timeline. This will allow you to increase content production once standard marketing practices resume, personalize demographic-based marketing campaigns, and more importantly, avoid legal PR disasters by adhering to geo-specific regulations.

Keep your target market educated

That being said, brands need to communicate and tailor today’s content to respond to the crisis, as it pertains to their business (from niche target markets all the way to the global economy’s impact).

For example, you should communicate about the proactive measures you’re taking (i.e. store closures or policy updates) related to COVID-19. But be careful how you do it.

Many brands are flooding every customer in their email database with irrelevant or impersonalized updates regarding excessive information (often highlighting precautionary measures that they should have been taking prior to the pandemonium). For example, mandated employee hand washing - so you’re telling me this wasn’t a policy before? 

Here’s an excerpt from a CCW Digital guest post by Annette Franz:

 “…a few days ago, I received the following message (this is just a snippet of the message) from a spa that I regularly frequent:”

    Combined with our daily thorough cleanings and sanitation practices we are utilizing a hospital grade disinfectant cleaner that kills 99.99% of bacteria, viruses and fungus. Our Team is diligently and frequently disinfecting high-touch surfaces and common areas throughout the day.

    For Example: Lockers inside and out, locker keys, spa sandals, pens, door handles, showers, locker rooms, restrooms, light switches, countertops, faucets/handles, handrails, treatment tables, face cradles, hot towel cabins, facial equipment, product bottles within the treatment room, quiet room furniture and all hard surfaces.

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“I’ve seen similar messages from airlines and hotels. This might shock you, but for every business that sends messages like this, just stop. Why? The first question customers ask is, ‘Why aren’t you already doing these things to protect customers and employees?’” 

Highlight how your brand can provide customers value (in ways it hasn’t before)

Find the proper balance of “push” content—the content you are actively putting in front of your customer across all digital channels during this time (i.e. email subject lines, social posts, current campaign taglines, blogs, etc.). Push content is not only today’s primary factor in digital marketing, but it’s a way to provide customers with educational information and value.

Brands exist to provide consumers value, and the products, services and media that help during this stressful time deserves the attention of those who can benefit from them. 

If what you do supports or enhances people’s lives while quarantined (in any way), you’re defining the definition of consumer value. So why not tell that story?

Communicate your benefits. Does your product give people things to do at home? Does it help employees do their jobs without face-to-face interaction? Identify your brand’s potential unique value in this cultural moment, and share it. That’s the form of push content that consumers are looking for (not McDonald’s letting you know they’re cleaning their toilets).

Even if your product doesn’t directly help folks deal with the quarantine, your brand can still provide value to potential customers. How can you educate, entertain, or inspire people working remotely or stuck at home?

As long as you keep the focus on helping your target market (and not patting yourself on the back), your marketing doesn’t have to stop.

Invest in customer-lifetime-value (CLV) with temporary, financial tradeoffs

While some previous industry leaders (like Planet Fitness) are feeling the effects of lackluster contingency plans and communication practices, others like Microsoft and Zoom are offering free products, a strategy implemented to invest in long-term CLV. (Satisfy customers now, reap monetary benefits later). 

More and more customer-centric organizations are extending this offering, while simultaneously investing in their customer’s lifetime-value, taking a Microsoft or Zoom approach with temporary, complementary services. 

As Simon Copcutt, our Head of Strategic Accounts recently stated:

“Great to see how so many of the leading solution providers we work with are opening up their products for use at no charge while the planet deals with Covid-19. 8x8Appian CorporationNICE inContactRing Central, [and] Salesforce,” to name a few. 

No one’s safe from the behavioral economic consequences brought upon by the coronavirus. But adapting to empathetic marketing strategies will give you the best chance at being on the favorable side of financial Darwinism.